Few things are more uplifting than the sight of happy children at play: running wild, jumping around, sliding down chutes, birling on the roundabouts and feeling the irresistible surge of a ‘tickly tummy’ as they go ever higher on the swings.
But amongst the fun there’s the odd inevitable mishap. While skinned knees may be the trademark of an adventurous child, there’s a serious side to playground safety. And there’s a complex balance between play that is suitably challenging and, at the same time, safe.
In 2002, the former Children’s Play Council summed it up: ‘Children need and want to take risks when they play. Play provision aims to respond to these needs and wishes by offering children stimulating, challenging environments for exploring and developing their abilities. In doing this, play provision aims to manage the level of risk so that children are not exposed to unacceptable risks of death or serious injury.’
According to the Scottish Government’s Child Safety Strategy, ‘every year in Scotland, one child in five attends accident and emergency departments following an unintentional injury – approximately 200,000 visits annually’. Many of these accidents take place in public playgrounds.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has some interesting statistics on playground mishaps. Not surprisingly, most involve falling. In terms of frequency, the equipment most involved in fall injuries are swings (40%), climbers (23%), slides (21%), roundabouts (5%), see-saws (4%), fireman’s poles (1%) and ‘others’ (6%).
Of course that doesn’t mean that swings are inherently dangerous. They’re just more popular than that oddly shaped thing in the corner of the playground that nobody knows how to get on never mind fall off. And before you go wrapping your little ones in a blanket of cotton wool and consigning them to a life on the couch, you can be assured that most playground incidents are cured with a cuddle and a quick dab with a tissue before junior is back conquering Everest for the umpteenth time.
However, there is a point where it gets serious. RoSPA points to the following issues where ‘management causes’ may be the source of blame:
- poor equipment design or failure to comply to safety standards
- poor design and layout
- unsuitable equipment for the intended age group
- incorrect installation
- poor inspection
- poor maintenance.
In cases where an accident is the direct result of clear negligence on the part of the playground owner or operator, then a serious injury can lead to a legitimate claim for compensation. As ever, an experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to advise on when this is appropriate and what procedures should be followed – including the kind of evidence that would be required.
While playground maintenance and management problems can be the source of danger to children, it’s worth noting that ‘user causes’ are frequently to blame. That includes things like ‘misuse’ of equipment, unsuitable clothing, weather conditions and lack of supervision. It’s interesting to note that the rise of the smartphone has coincided with an increase in playground accidents as parents allow the distractions of incoming texts, emails and social media updates to distract them from focusing on their little darlings’ safety.
So, if there are any lessons to be learned from this cautionary tale, it’s that while an element of risk can be a welcome part of everyday play, accidents do happen and sometimes they’re serious. As ever, where there’s blame, there’s scope for a claim – always seek qualified advice to see if compensation could be justified.